For weeks, hundreds of thousands of farmers in India have been protesting against new farm laws.
The arrest of a 22-year-old Indian climate activist accused of sharing an online “toolkit” of information on the weeks-long farmers’ protests has caused outrage, with many calling it an attack on free speech.
Disha Ravi was arrested on Saturday after police accused her of editing and circulating an online “toolkit” tweeted by climate activist Greta Thunberg, which had information on the farmers’ demonstrations, as well as how to join the rallies and support the movement online.
Delhi Police did not say what Ravi had been charged with but accused her of being “a key conspirator in the document’s formulation and dissemination”.
On Sunday, she was remanded in custody until a court hearing in five days’ time. Her lawyer was not immediately available for comment.
Jairam Ramesh, a former minister and lawmaker for the opposition Congress party, called Ravi’s arrest and detention “completely atrocious” and an “unwarranted harassment and intimidation”.
A coalition of activist groups demanded Ravi’s release and said it was “extremely worried for her safety and wellbeing”.
On Monday, local media reported that arrest warrants had been issued against two more activists – Nikita Jacob and Shantanu.
Several activists, writers and opposition politicians have condemned the arrest on Twitter, calling the arrest “alarming”.
“Disha’s ‘crime’? merely sharing a public document that contained the most basic info for online organization – a suggestion of what people can tweet. what hashtags they can use. and so on,” Indian-Canadian poet Rupi Kaur said in a Twitter post.
disha’s “crime”? merely sharing a public document that contained the most basic info for online organization – a suggestion of what people can tweet. what hashtags they can use. and so on.
— rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) February 14, 2021
Another Twitter user, an Indian politician Arvind Kejriwal, called the arrest an “unprecedented attack on democracy”.
Apoorvanand, an activist and professor at Delhi University, criticised the crackdown on young activists.
“[The government wants] to send a very stern message to the young people that you are not allowed to go beyond yourself, if you are a student, you shouldn’t get interested in the issues or lives of people that are different from you,” he said.
The government, Apoorvanand said, wants to tell these people: “What business have you to get interested in the farmers lives or lives of Dalits or Muslims. And if you are crossing your boundary and try to establish a contact with them, then it’s clear that you are part of a conspiracy.”
“These arrests… and arrest warrant against Nikita and others, is again the same playbook which the government is using. The expression of the Dalits was a crime, the anti-CAA protests in itself was a crime and the farmers protest is also a global conspiracy according to this government,” he said.
Since late November, farmers have camped on roads leading into the capital, calling for new agriculture laws to be repealed, in one of the biggest challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government since it came to power in 2014.
The farmer protests have been mainly peaceful. However, on January 26, thousands of farmers overwhelmed police and stormed into the historic Red Fort complex in Delhi after tearing down barricades and driving tractors through roadblocks.
Delhi has reacted with fury to tweets about the protests by celebrities – in addition to Thunberg, there have been tweets by pop star Rihanna and US Vice President Kamala Harris’ niece Meena Harris – calling them “sensationalist”.
Following those posts, on February 5, police launched an investigation into those stirring “disaffection and ill will” against the government.
A police source told Reuters news agency that Ravi is a senior leader of the Indian arm of Thunberg’s Fridays for Future campaign movement.
Delhi Police said on Twitter that Ravi’s group had collaborated with individuals wanting to create a separate country in the northern state of Punjab. Many of the protesting farmers come from Punjab.
Additional reporting by Bilal Kuchay in New Delhi